Portugal
The Socialist Decade

Commerce Square at Lisbon.

Commerce Square at Lisbon.

© Recep Tayyip Çelik. Pexels.

It is frequent to hear that the 21st century began with 9/11 terrorist attack, when two highjacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. For Portugal however the new century only began 10 years later, with the 2011 bankruptcy and the subsequent bailout provided by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

A series of socioeconomically painful yet inevitable adjustment policies had then to be undertaken, by a right-wing government led by the PSD social democrats. Their coalition’s four years in power turned out to be an inflexion point in recent Portuguese history, which lead to an unprecedented scenario: a Socialist Decade.

To the surprise of the entire country, the ruling Socialist Party (PS), which was already in power since 2015, won the January elections with an absolute majority, having then achieved 41.7% of the votes which translate into 120 seats in parliament – above the 116-threshold.

What’s more, the following days after the results announcement, the PSD called for a vote repetition among Portuguese migrants in Europe, which led to two more months of waiting before the new government was sworn in. With that move, PSD managed to get an even worse result then before and handed over to their PS rivals yet another seat in parliament!

The socialists’ landslide victory is so phenomenal that one would have to go back in time 40 years to find a lower voter turnout for PSD! With only 77 seats and without any foreseeable capable leadership in the near future, the social democrats will most likely not be an option again for the next elections in four years. Talking about lack of leadership, also the Christian democrats of CDS couldn’t elect a single candidate, having been kicked out of parliament for the first time in their history.

The radical-left side of the political spectrum also suffered a debacle. Both the Bloco de Esquerda and the Communist Party – the two parties that had been supporting the Socialists for the past 6 years – were smashed in these elections: in total, these parties had 31 seats combined and now Bloco got only 5 and the Communists 6.

As for the liberals of Iniciativa Liberal, they grew from 1 seat to 8, and the most radical right-wing party expanded from 1 to 12, being now the third political actor in the country. This way, Portugal has now one of the least fragmented parliaments in Europe, with only two parties representing 85% of the total seats!

Some brief notes about the new government. Prime minister António Costa has nominated a woman as minister of National Defense, for the first time in history, and for the Economy one of the few independent voices, coming from the private sector, in the whole executive, but who managed to announce a new tax right on his first day in office. The new minister of Foreign Affairs is a PhD in Oxford, used to be minister of Defense and a E.U. ambassador in Brazil and India. Interestingly enough, the secretary of state for European Affairs has been taken away from the minister of foreign affairs and taken directly to the prime minister’s office, also for the first time.

A sharp reader of his country’s political dynamics, Costa has nominated all of his potential heirs to the government and having confirmed that his voters prefer stability to reform – Portugal has an ageing population, a high percentage of public employees, and an economy too reliant on subsidies or business with the public sector – his third government will most likely consist in the same recipe: manage the day-to-day powerplay without any long-term vision.

Filipe Domingues is Secretary-General of IPDAL - Institute for the Promotion of Latin America and the Caribbean - since 2010, co-author of the biography of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, "O Mundo Não Tem de Ser Assim" / "Honest Broker" (to be published in the US and UK in May 2022) and co-founder of the Center for Cooperation in Cyberspace.

Fluent in five languages, with a degree in Communication Sciences and post-graduate studies in International Relations and Diplomacy, Filipe Domingues is a speaker at international conferences and global affairs analyst for publications, radio and television in Europe and Latin America.